High Stakes Testing; Summary

A Statement of Concern and Call to Action on High-Stakes Testing
April 25, 2001

SUMMARY

Current proposals to increase the amount of standardized testing in U.S. public schools are based on misconceptions about the nature and value of testing and ignore essential truths about how children develop a real love of learning. These tests invariably carry high stakes--that is, the test results are linked to serious consequences for students, teachers, and schools.

Some of the key concerns regarding high-stakes testing are:

  • Evidence is growing of harm to children's health. Parents, teachers, school nurses and psychologists, and child psychiatrists are reporting increased levels of stress and anxiety caused by tests. Test-stress, they report, is literally making children sick.

  • The technology of testing is flawed. Tests are subject to numerous forms of error and often do not accurately measure students' knowledge or ability.

  • Test scores have meaning only in the context of the whole child. In the absence of context, tests may not measure anything meaningful, or have any connection to other more authentic measures of achievement.

  • More high-stakes testing means more dropouts and fewer good teachers. Research suggests that high-stakes testing leads to large increases in the number of school dropouts, especially among minority and poor youth. It also contributes to the flight of good teachers from public schools.

  • Standardization is the enemy of effective public schools. Standardized tests impoverish the curriculum and undermine excellence.

  • There is an alternative to high-stakes testing. Innovative schools have already developed performance-based assessments that are fairer and more meaningful.

In light of the questionable benefits of high-stakes testing and its potential for long-term harm, the Alliance for Childhood calls on President Bush, the Congress, and educational leaders:

  • To rethink the current rush to make American children take even more standardized tests.

  • To put off making any new federal requirements for standardized testing of public school students until the health effects of such policies have been studied.

  • To protect children by prohibiting the growing practice of making high-stakes decisions about individual students' promotion, graduation, or placement in low-track classes on the basis of a single test score.

  • To provide incentives for states and localities to develop alternative, performance-based assessments that measure not just the ability to memorize facts but also the capacity for original thinking, real-world problem-solving, perseverance, and social responsibility. Such assessments hold real meaning for students, parents, schools, and communities.